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Two views of veterinary client communication


Understand the pet owner's perspective and reach out to form a lasting bond.

It's Thursday afternoon and your team is lamenting the fact multiple clients declined treatment recommendations this week. You all sigh, agree it's hard to get clients to agree to services and walk away feeling deflated. Sound familiar? Consider these two very different views of client communication and see how they influence your practice:

The first view

Doctors tend to equate effective communication with informing clients about their pet's needs and the client's acceptance of their treatment recommendations. Veterinarians also think communication is successful if clients express satisfaction and return to the practice. Team members tend to think effective communication occurs when client interactions are conflict-free. A good day is when clients don't complain about money or express concerns about the value of services.

The second view

Now, let's look at the client's view. Pet owners focus more on their relationship with team members. They want everyone to express genuine interest in them and their pet—and they want to see and hear your compassion. Clients appreciate team members who patiently listen to their concerns and don't rush appointments or decisions. They also want answers to all their questions—in a language they can understand.

It's clear the veterinary view is outcome-based and the client's view is process-oriented. Both want what's best for the pet. Yet the team focuses on client retention and compliance, while pet owners are tuned to the communication process.

Bridge the gap

Sometimes clients don't know what services are available or why their pet may need a service. And if they don't have much discretionary income, they may feel like you're trying to sell them something. To increase compliance, focus on educating pet owners rather than just making recommendations.

Accommodating the pet owner's perspective improves your success rate. Follow these tips to educate pet owners about the value of services:

> Ask open-ended questions such as, "What has Moxie been up to since we saw her last?"

> Engage clients in a dialogue before immediately launching into what services you recommend. Identify all concerns with questions such as, "What problems is Sophie having?"

> Don't assume clients are knowledgeable. Ask if they have questions about common diseases such as heartworm disease and review which intestinal parasites you look for in a stool sample.

> Complete the exam and discuss your findings before making treatment recommendations.

> After making recommendations, focus on need recognition and the value of the services. Use phrases such as, "Senior testing will determine if Jake is healthy or if he has any early indications of illness." And show the value of services with phrases such as, "We want to catch any abnormalities early so that we can help Jake live a long life."

Dr. Amanda Donnelly, MBA, is the president and owner of ALD Veterinary Consulting, LLC. She wrote this piece originally for CareCredit.

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